Another year, another huge Melbourne International Film Festival ahead of us. To help wade through the immense list of films playing at MIFF this year, we will be breaking down each section of the programme with our recommendations, separated into four categories: known films already screened in Australia, known films yet to screen in Australia, the dark horses, and the must-sees in our schedule.
We start today with the biggest section of the programme, International Panorama, and we’re giving you five picks in each category to whittle down the 55 films to a reasonable number.
Alps | dir. Yorgos Lanthimos | GRE
The surprise winner of the Official Competition Prize at this year’s Sydney Film Festival, Yorgos Lanthimos’ follow-up to the audience-provoking Dogtooth sees a Nurse, a Paramedic, a Gymnast and a Coach hired to stand in for dead people by relatives, friends or colleagues of the deceased. As oddball as it is slyly funny.
Amour | dir. Michael Haneke | FRA/AUT/GER
Michael Haneke’s Palme d’Or winner Amour is a moving and clinical piece that follows an elderly couple who face their most difficult challenge when the wife suffers a stroke. Starring Emmanuelle Riva, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Isabelle Huppert, and featuring some magnificent cinematography from Darius Khondji, this is another strong effort from the Austrian auteur and was universally praised at Sydney (read Sarah’s review here).
Beasts of the Southern Wild | dir. Benh Zeitlin | USA
Winner of the US Dramatic Grand Jury Prize and Excellence in Cinematography Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and Best First Feature at Cannes, Zeitlin’s debut film has received universal praise since its premiere, including a run at the Sydney Film Festival. Featuring a stunning turn from six-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis, this passionate and powerful feature is worth notice.
Monsieur Lazhar | dir. Philippe Falardeau | CAN
Taking home the Audience Award at this year’s Sydney Film Festival, and arguably A Separation’s biggest competitor in the Foreign Language Film category at this year’s Academy Awards – no small feat considering Bullhead and Footnote also featured – Monsieur Lazhar is a deeply moving classroom drama that sees a substitute teacher from Algeria dealing with a shaken class. Beautifully shot and filled with tremendous performances, this has all of the qualities of a festival favourite.
Moonrise Kingdom | dir. Wes Anderson | USA
Cannes’ Opening Night feature, Moonrise Kingdom is Wes Anderson’s new charming feature about two 12-year-olds who fall in love and run away together in the summer of 1965. Filled with unique characters, including authority figures – played by Bruce Willis, Edward Norton and Tilda Swinton – and the girl’s parents – Bill Murray and Frances McDormand – Anderson has created another distinct world that is getting positive responses from pretty much everyone.
KNOWN FILMS YET TO SCREEN AT AN AUSTRALIAN FESTIVAL
Beyond the Hills | dir. Cristian Mungiu | ROU
Taking out the Best Screenplay and Best Actress awards at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Mungiu’s follow-up to the Palme d’Or winning 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is a brilliant portrayal of irrationality and fear played out in real time. Not recommended after a heavy day of work, and should be followed by a light fluffy comedy.
The Intouchables | dir. Olivier Nakache, Éric Toledano | FRA
The most-watched film in France last year and the most successful French film since Amélie, this adaptation of Abdel Sellou’s “You Changed My Life” saw Omar Sy win the César Award for Best Actor, defeating Jean Dujardin of The Artist. While some American critics have accused it of saccharine “Uncle Tom” racism, this is still an uplifting comedy about friendship and trust.
Ruby Sparks | dir. Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris | USA
The much-anticipated follow-up to Little Miss Sunshine, Ruby Sparks sees a young novelist struggling with writer’s block create a female character he thinks will love him, and then quite literally wills her to life. Zoe Kazan wrote the screenplay and stars opposite Paul Dano in a modern take on a classic tale.
Shadow Dancer | dir. James Marsh | UK/IRE
Marsh – of Man on Wire and Project Nim fame – makes his fictional feature debut with a thriller set during The Troubles period of Northern Ireland’s history. A low-key effort that focuses on the people, rather than the politics, the film contains supposedly strong performances from Clive Owen, Andrea Riseborough and Gillian Anderson, as well as a very tight screenplay.
Your Sister’s Sister | dir. Lynn Shelton | USA
Featuring every mother’s favourite pair of actresses, Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt, alongside actor-director Mark Duplass (also in Safety Not Guaranteed), Shelton’s feature follow-up to the intriguing Humpday is a low-key drama filled with three wonderful performances and a lot of laughs.
THE DARK HORSES
Dark Horse | dir. Todd Solondz | USA
You’re not ever going to get a better fit in this category; not only due the title but because Todd Solondz is a “critic-proof” filmmaker who has fashioned a career out of making incredibly awkward and confronting features. This will be no different and the central cast is just as promising as his previous efforts. A mixed response is guaranteed.
Keep the Lights On | dir. Ira Sachs | USA
Winning the Teddy Award at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival, this observation of the complexities found in shared intimacy covers approximately a decade in the self-destructive relationship of an openly gay filmmaker and a closeted lawyer. With a wider scope and idiosyncratic direction, Sachs looks to have constructed another feature containing a complex and organic central relationship.
Low Life | dir. Nicolas Klotz, Elisabeth Perceval | FRA
The latest collaboration between Klotz and Perceval references Bresson in its politically engaged portrait of youth, centring on the intense relationship between a Lyon student and an Afghan asylum seeker. Addressing universal issues of race, class, and immigration, Low Life looks to be another impressive effort from the directing duo.
Modest Reception | dir. Mani Haghighi | IRI
Thoroughly enjoyed by our own Greg Bennett (review here), Modest Reception is the very darkest of dark comedies, operating primarily as a character study of two individuals becoming increasingly disillusioned with their “work” and with each other. This is a sadistic feature filled with an incredible sense of unease.
Teddy Bear | dir. Mads Matthiesen | DEN
The winner of the World Cinema Directing Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Mads Matthiesen’s debut feature follows an extremely shy bodybuilder looking for love and hoping to take control of his life. An expansion of the 2007 short film Dennis, this observational Danish film has been lauded for its charming and disarming nature.
THE FIVE MUST-SEES OF OUR FESTIVAL SCHEDULE
Almayer’s Folly | dir. Chantal Akerman | FRA
There was no way we were going to miss the return of auteur Chantal Akerman. A liberal adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s first novel, the film – now set in 1950s Cambodia and shot on location – follows the collapse of a Dutch trader due to his unquenchable greed and prejudices. Touted as Akerman’s most satisfying and eccentric feature since La Captive, this is a no-brainer.
Amour | dir. Michael Haneke | FRA/AUT/GER
Haneke consistently creates intense features that illicit discussion and this is no different. The Palme d’Or winner was almost universally loved at this year’s Sydney Film Festival, and I am certain Melbourne audiences will react similarly.
Berberian Sound Studio | dir. Peter Strickland | UK
An unsettling dark comedy following the misadventures of a sound technician – played by the always impressive Toby Jones – working on a 1970s Italian horror feature, Berberian Sound Studio works both as a character-study and as a homage to the giallo wave of cinema.
The Hunt | dir. Thomas Vinterberg | DEN
Casual audiences will recognise him as the villain from Casino Royale, but Mads Mikkelsen is one of the most impressive actors working in cinema today. This year is no different, with a strong turn in the film A Royal Affair, and now an award-winning performance in Thomas Vinterberg’s Cannes Jury Prize winner The Hunt. A thrilling drama looking at the way a false accusation can destroy a community, this is worthy of your attention.
War Witch | dir. Kim Nguyen | CAN
Already receiving strong praise, Kim Nguyen’s War Witch follows a Congolese girl (played by nonprofessional actress Rachel Mwanza) after she is captured by a rebel army at the age of twelve. Taking home the Silver Bear for Best Actress at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival, as well as Best Narrative Feature and Best Actress at the Tribeca Film Festival, War Witch again showcases the strength of Canadian cinema.
Hopefully this list helps decide your picks in the section. If you have already bought tickets to International Panorama films, we would love to know your choices and your most anticipated of the category!